By Shruti Bishnoi (YES 2015-2016, India, placed by YFU in Fort Wayne, IN)
While on the YES program, I was blessed to have a loving and diverse host family, with an Indian host mom, American host dad, and Indian American host sister. When I first arrived in Indiana, I was very nervous, but it soon became my home away from home. I saw so many Americans active in volunteering, and at first I did not understand why would give away their precious time. Before coming to the U.S., I never participated or had any interest in community service. But, to my surprise, I ended up with 40 hours to community service by the end of my program. I loved giving back to the community. I never knew this kind of satisfaction before.
One day, back home in India, I bought a dozen bananas on my way home from an eight-year-old child named Hari. He said they cost 50 rupees per dozen. I handed him a 100 rupee note, and the child gave me 60 rupees back. I told him that he calculated wrong and gave me too much change. It struck me that I was surrounded by children like Hari, who lacked basic education.
I come from a farming family, and I have known many children like Hari. More than half of the children of farmers and street vendors end up dropping out of school. They grow up to become farmers and vendors just like their parents and lack the skills to read, write, and do basic math. Without basic education, many end up in debt or get taken advantage of by cruel landowners and lenders by making deals without a written agreement. There is a high rate of suicide among farmers unable to pay back their debts, often because they are being swindled with exorbitant interest rates. This is why I decided to apply for a YES Alumni Grant for my project, The Banyan Teacher.
The name, The Banyan Teacher, was chosen because the shade of the big banyan trees in rural areas has always been a place for teaching. The project first trained 15 teachers, ages 18 to 24, who subsequently went on to teach 614 elementary to high school-aged students in 10 villages in the Indore district, including Hatod, Umariya, Panda, Tincha, Khurd, Morod, Chipabakhal, Chota Jamaniya, Machla, and Choral as well as in the city of Indore. The students were taught to read and write basic Hindi and do basic math to help them better navigate their daily lives.
The President of our partner organization, Rope of Hope Social Service Society, said, “We would have never been able to reach 614 students in only 10 months if not for this funding and support." One teacher, Shweta Gor, noted that she has always wanted to teach underprivileged children but didn’t have the know-how or skills to get started. She is excited to continue using these skills to make an impact in her community. One student said, “I will definitely make my future children study and will not let them drop out of school like my parents did. Thank you so much!”
I feel this project has left an indelible mark on the minds of the students as they realized how important education is for our lives. Many lives have changed upon realizing the power of a pen. This project helped me develop leadership skills and become more responsible. Handling a project with such a huge number of teachers, volunteers, students, and partners got me out of my comfort zone and stretched my limits.
I am eternally grateful to the YES program and its sponsor, the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, for giving me amazing opportunities to make a change in this world. I am thankful to the team at Rope of Hope Social Service Society for collaborating and helping me reach so many students. Last, but not least, I thank my parents for always being there for me when I felt overwhelmed with such a big responsibility, which at the end has greatly enriched me.